Yesterday, ROOT sports sent out a press release announcing their schedule for the 2013 season. This sent my baseball senses a tingling as I am very excited to (literally) see the team again. This also seems like a good time to discuss some ways the Rockies TV experience could be improved.
The release mentions that the entire announcing team and sideline reporters shall be returning from last season. The previous sentence is sure to cause wildly different reactions from Rockies fans. However, regardless of your feelings on the matter, Drew Goodman is a 9 time Colorado Sporstcaster of the Year, and George Frazier is…well returning for another year. That was a joke. It is not my intention, nor do I believe is it constructive, to denigrate either of them, or to complain about aspects of their announcing that are simply a part of their character. So, I hope the following will be met with an understanding that the goal here is to be positive about ways to make things better.
A little space goes a long way. No reasonable person would exclude Vin Scully from the list of greatest baseball broadcasters in history. The Rockies announcing team speaks of him with highest regard. And I would submit that a huge component of his effectiveness comes from his ability to allow his viewer or listener the space to hear the sound of the game. It also helps that he flies solo, but still, that silence is an important part of baseball.
Too often the Rockies announcers (especially George Frazier and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Huson) will get into modes where they feel it is necessary to comment on everything. Not every moment of play-by-play needs analysis, and George often finds himself tumbling down sentences to nowhere, when really we could have just been listening to the sounds of the park. Bats cracking, umpires roaring, crowds murmuring and the unmistakable sound of a a baseball meeting a glove are all more pleasant listening experiences than listening to someone talk who just feels like they are supposed to be talking.
They are better when they pick their spots. I've noticed Frazier's best commentary comes after he hasn't said anything in a while and gives himself the space to make legitimate points of analysis. His worst work comes when he starts to ramble and restate what Drew just said without actually adding anything new but nonetheless talking over the game.
There is nothing wrong with homerism on face value, and that ship pretty much sailed once they renamed the channel ROOT. I actually like that the people covering the game are also rooting for the Rockies to do well and giving us the information that most interests us as Rockies fans. The homerism sometimes becomes a problem though.
Our announcers have a tendency to be dismissive of the talents and abilities of other teams and players. With the obvious exception of the Ryan Brauns of the world, they oftentimes find themselves saying something like, "this guy can’t hit Pomeranz’s fastball!" Only to watch the next heater Drew throws go 400 feet. It’s kind of like that kid on your little-league team who wouldn't stop talking smack from the dugout, leaving everyone on the field to actually deliver. There is a fine line between rooting and being a PR (that’s public relations in this context) guy like a press secretary spinning everything rather than searching for facts.
This isn't about jinxing. We all know that the announcers don’t make players strike out or hit home runs. But it can be grating as a fan when the homerism turns to arrogance that gets karma jacked for a team that doesn't have much right to be arrogant in the first place.
A similar thing happens when Drew anticipates the call rather than making it while the play happens. My least favorite version of this happens inevitably when the other guys have runners on first and third with one out in an inning we really need to get out of and the pitcher induces a hard groundball and Drew yells out, "double play ball!" Does our fielder punt the ball every time? Of course not. Is it a thousand times more frustrating when he does? Easily. I believe it’s called counting your chickens before they hatch, and they do this a lot.
This isn’t about jinxing. It’s about respect for the game, and on some level they know that, which is why they purposefully never said the words "no hitter" on April 17th 2010. Drew Goodman even went to the final break that day with one of my favorite calls of his career, "come on back, something special is brewing here at Turner Field." They should exercise that instinct more often.
But, to be fair, when it is your job to put everything in a Rockies oriented context, it can be difficult not to view everything that happens on the field as being a direct result of something our guys did, or could have done differently. It’s hard not to have more confidence and faith in a team you see play so many times and spend so much time around. But, as my dad would say, the other team has boys on scholarship too.
Much of this also has to do with one other main factor; these broadcasts are heavily geared toward casual fans. Many of these issues could be dealt with by doing more for the diehards.
Dap for Diehards
Advanced stats aren’t for everyone. But whether you’re Joe Morgan at the end of Moneyball or Nate Silver, it’s clear they aren't going anywhere. It feels like a pipe dream to ask that they stop showing the same dead stat line every time. Do I really need to see that 0 next to Johnny Herrera’s HR total 100 times a season? Keith Law says RBIs are a meaningless stat and BA almost as much.
Agree or disagree, these (and the pitcher equivalents of W/L, ERA) shouldn't be the only stats we get during the broadcast. It also feels like a pipe dream to ask that they stop running Toyota Talk (I hate that) so I propose a compromise. Pick another inning to run a stats crawl of the advanced stats for that days players. Goodman and Fazier don’t need to engage them if they don’t want to, but a simple crawl at the bottom of the screen showing lineup’s OPS, OPS+,WAR, BABIP, or the pitchers' WHIP, WAR, and ERA+ could go a long way toward making the people who are watching 162 broadcasts feel a lot more included.
Another thing that could easily be added to the usual graphic layout is a stat line that shows changes in BA (or OPS) for each count. Anyone who has ever played an MLB 2k game or watched Chicago Cub coverage on WGN with Bob Brenly and Len Casper has seen this done.
Example: Player A steps to the plate and the line reads 0-0 BA .265. Pitcher throws ball one and the line changes to 1-0 BA .301 and so on for each count and each hitter. Another thing the Cubs broadcast does is a stat of the week feature where they focus on just one advanced stat at a time. They take the opportunity to point out every time it is relevant in that particular game. It’s a really good way to include the super fanatical baseball people and gracefully introduce new and sometimes scary ideas to a new audience.
Better Use Of The Ford Strike Zone
Jay Tymkovich wrote an excellent examination earlier this week on the idea of MLB implementing an automated strike zone. He made some compelling arguments that I buy about the fun of watching the psychology of the battle for the strike zone between pitcher, catcher, and umpire. But we all know, sometimes guys just get hosed. I for one would be entirely in favor of just leaving the Ford Strike Zone box up all the time for a consistency check.
This could be distracting to some though. Maybe you leave it off to the side? Maybe just do it for one inning a game? Doing this could help keep fans better informed and more constantly engaged, which is what a TV broadcast should be all about. We can be better informed about the consistency of the umpire, the location and shape of the strike zone in relation to the particular camera angle, and the validity of the homerism,
It can be hard to tell for sure if our pitcher is the only one not getting calls when his pitches are the only ones we are shown on the Ford Strike Zone, at the judgement of an admittedly biased source; our guys in the booth. Maybe the guys just need to be more consistent at showing borderline calls, but this part of the game cannot be underrated. It could be easily argued that the best reason to watch baseball on TV is to follow the pitching, which makes imminent knowledge of the strike zone very important. Anything we can do to get a more complete understanding of where the strike zone is at any given moment in any given game, should at the very least be entertained.
Either way, I'm still tuning in over 100 times this season.